For the past several years now, glyphosate has been in the public press for all of the wrong reasons. Since the infamous International Agency for Research on Cancer ruling that the herbicide was a “probable carcinogenic,” more than 100,000 lawsuits have been filed against manufacturer Bayer in the U.S. The few of these that have gone through the trial process have resulted in multi-million-dollar judgments against the company.
Given these facts, this glyphosate question weighed heavily on the nation’s top ag retailers. In fact, when we asked respondents to give us their view on the herbicide’s future in our 2019 CropLife 100 survey, slightly more than half – 53% – believed that other products would begin to cut into glyphosate’s agricultural market share because of this uncertainty. Another 9% thought growers and end-users would shift away from Roundup use entirely. Still, 36% of respondents said they believed glyphosate would remain a key product for the industry.
But fast forward to the middle of 2020, and much of this uncertainty has disappeared. In June, Bayer reached a settlement to pay almost $11 billion to settle an estimated 95,000 cases involving 25 different law firms. The figure also includes $1.25 billion to deal with potential future claims from people who used glyphosate and may develop the form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the years to come.
“The decision to resolve this is driven by a desire to bring greater certainty to the growers we serve every day,” said Liam Condon, President of the Bayer Crop Science Division in a phone call with the media on June 24. “If you step back, what we’re doing here is, in essence, paying a lot of money to take the question of the safety of glyphosate out of the courtroom and put it back into the science arena. That’s where it belongs.”
To accomplish this, the settlement will use part of the $1.25 billion being set aside to establish an independent expert panel to resolve two critical questions about glyphosate over the next few years: Does it cause cancer, and if so, what is the minimum dosage or exposure level that is dangerous? If the panel concludes that glyphosate is a carcinogen, Bayer will not be able to argue otherwise in future cases. On the flipside, if the experts reach the opposite conclusion, the class action’s lawyers will be similarly bound.